Three student startups that are making the world a better place

During their studies, what started as bold ideas became real-life enterprises to combat social and environmental challenges. Meet the Malmö University students behind three startups aiming to make the world a better place.

Three student startups that are making the world a better place
Photo: Ezana Mussie and Fernanda Jaraba from Caroli Park

hejhej-mats: Yoga with a cause 

Sophie Zepnik and Anna Souvignier from hejhej-mats. Photo: Christin Schwarzer Photography

Sophie Zepnik and Anna Souvignier have always shared a common passion for green living. Originally from Germany, they got the idea for hejhej-mats — a yoga mat company using recycled materials and closed-loop production — during their studies in Malmö. 

“We were both looking into master’s programmes and knew that Sweden was ahead of the game when it came to sustainable development and innovation. That’s when we found the Leadership for Sustainability master’s programme at Malmö University, and were super happy to both get accepted,” says Anna.

“Neither of us had the intention of starting our own business but the idea came after visiting an art exhibition that criticised yoga practitioners for not thinking about the environmental impact of the yoga mats they practice on.”

And so, the idea behind hejhej-mats was born: yoga mats made from foam cut-offs rather than natural materials that lead to deforestation. The closed loop production model means that the mat can also be recycled at the end of its lifespan. 

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“We try to have a social impact as well; the logo is sewn on by individuals with disabilities who have a harder time getting access to the labour market, and part of our profits are donated to an NGO for children’s education,” says Sophie.

Although the company is thriving (they’ve received ample press in magazines such as Vogue and are currently completely sold out of mats) the journey hasn’t been easy; one and a half years passed between the initial idea and having the product in hand. Getting financial support from Drivhuset, Malmö University’s centre for student innovation, was key to their success. 

“We’re sure that without the University’s help we would never have been able to take this idea as far as we’ve done,” Anna says.

“From the very beginning, no-one questioned our ability to found our own sustainable start-up, and having that support from the get-go made us think ‘Okay, we can do this’.”

Caroli Park: Sanctuary from stress 

Photo: Ezana Mussie and Fernanda Jaraba from Caroli Park

This month, Malmö locals have been able to visit a space that was formerly closed to the public — the desacralised and privately owned Caroli Church. The church welcomes anyone who wants to hang out in what has now been transformed into an indoor park. Passersby can come and grab a book to read, relax in a deck chair by the plant-adorned altar, or bring their kids to run around in the play area among the pews.

When Ezana Mussie and Fernanda Jaraba decided to create a serene space in the city, Caroli Church was just what they were looking for.  

“We developed a project plan during a course we both did as part of our Urban Studies master’s programme at Malmö University. The idea is based on what we call ‘urban sanctuaries’, which are places for relaxation that are free of advertisements, entrance fees or the pressure to consume,” explains Fernanda.

“Caroli Church was perfect because it’s in the middle of the city, unused, and has this particular, tranquil atmosphere,” Ezana adds. 

Caroli Park has been immensely popular since opening, with up to hundreds of visitors daily and a team of enthusiastic volunteers helping out with everything from collecting donations to building furniture. 

Ezana and Fernanda are observing how people interact with the space so that they can recreate the project elsewhere. 

“We hope to find more opportunities to make urban sanctuaries like this one. Stress levels are increasing, the city is becoming denser and we need more spaces that are not focused on reducing people to consumers or different types of productive citizens,” says Ezana.

Fernanda agrees that stress is a big problem. 

“There’s a tendency to feel like you’re constantly wearing a mask or performing in a certain way. It would be nice if people could be themselves and disconnect from those pressures not only in their own homes, but also in public.”

Coastlines: The ABCs of climate change

Photo: Coastlines typeface

Climate change is a pressing issue for all of us, but it’s not always easy to make sense of the science behind facts and figures. Wanting to present the geographical impact of climate change in a way that was accessible and interesting, Johan Elmehag decided to create a typeface based on what coastlines will look like in future. 

“It can be unsettling to receive facts, so I wanted to make something that was easy to grasp and not intimidating. I created a future map based on what the world would look like if all the ice caps melted, and started to see letter forms in exposed areas. I found an A in the north of Italy, for example, and realised that these letters could be used to organise geographical information.”

The Coastlines typeface, which has been downloaded by people across the globe, also includes links to articles about flood control, natural disasters and sea levels. 

Johan, who is currently doing an internship at a design studio in Oslo, developed the custom font while studying at Malmö University.  

“I think Malmö University provides a great space to explore yourself and meet people who share the same interests as you. You actually learn the most from your classmates, especially in creative subjects, because there is so much group work and discussion,” he says.

Johan is aware the letter shapes are “eccentric” and hopes this will encourage people to look into why the letters look weird and what they mean. Next year, he is planning to launch his own type foundry.

“I think artists can be anarchists when it comes to putting forward ideas, but we also have to be sensitive about the kind of work we produce because we have a power to build concepts in other people’s minds. That’s something I’ve understood after studying visual communication — what a great impact art actually has on our conception of the world. I think we have a big responsibility.”

Malmö University offers creative master’s programmes in Media and Communication Studies, Interaction Design, and Media Technology

This article was produced by Malmö University.

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EXPLAINED: Will Swedish housing prices plummet as interest rates rise?

The Swedish financial supervisory authority warned on Wednesday that rising interest rates could lead to house prices falling "quite sharply". How likely is it that this will happen?

EXPLAINED: Will Swedish housing prices plummet as interest rates rise?

What financial circumstances might make it difficult for borrowers to repay loans?

With an increase in the cost of living, including rising interest rates and rising electricity prices, there are plenty of circumstances that may make it difficult for borrowers – especially those holding large debts in relation to their income – to repay their mortgages.

Households with large debts are therefore more sensitive to an increase in interest rates, according to the Swedish financial supervisory authority, known in Swedish as Finansinspektionen (FI).

The agency published its annual Swedish Mortgage Market report on Wednesday.

“Large debts also mean a higher sensitivity if you were to suffer unemployment during an extensive recession,” said Henrik Braconier, the authority’s chief economist.

Other factors that could stretch borrowers’ finances include rising energy prices, higher food prices, and growing inflation.

“Apples, oranges, tomatoes have gone up by 30 percent,” said Américo Fernández, a household economist at SEB. “Wheat is coming from Ukraine and it’s getting harder and harder to get hold of.”


Will homeowners become unable to repay their mortgage loans?

Not according to Fernández.

“One of the last things Swedish households will fail to make their payments on is their mortgage and their houses,” he said. “They would rather decrease their spending on vacations abroad, or restaurants.”

The FI report noted that most new mortgages include margins that allow for fluctuations in the borrower’s finances. This means that mortgage holders have a cushion that allows them to handle financial changes.

“Our stress test shows that they can handle increases in the interest rate and also loss of income,” said Magnus Karlsson, FI’s director of macroanalysis. “New mortgages have margins in them calculating discretionary income, and will be able to absorb increases in interest rates and loss of income.”

SEB foresees an interest rise of up to three percent over the next two years, Fernández said,an increase that can be absorbed by most households.

Both Fernández and Karlsson agreed that if homeowners have to cut back on spending, those cuts will not come from debt repayment, but from their disposable income – the money they might ordinarily spend on entertainment, eating out, or travelling.

So while household spending may have to change, financial stability is not at stake for most households.

What’s going on with the housing market?

Right now, a record number of mortgage-holders have loans that are worth more than 4.5 times their income. This year, more than 14 percent of new mortgagors took on such large loans, compared to 6.3 percent last year.

A “low interest rate, increase in housing prices, increase in disposable real income and a housing market that is not functioning well” are all factors in the large debts that homeowners have incurred today, Karlsson argued.

Fernández noted that there is an imbalance between the low supply of housing and the high demand for housing, which is in part responsible for the high housing prices we see today.

He said a decrease in price of a few percentage points would not be surprising: “We’re coming from two years of exaggerated prices.”

Will housing prices begin to decrease after two years of increasing prices?

Calculations for three different scenarios tested by FI show that housing prices will decrease, Karlsson said.

While the agency does not predict housing prices, its report shows that under three different scenarios – the first an increase in mortgage interest rate, the second an increase in energy prices, and the third a combination of the first two with a reversal to pre-pandemic housing preferences – prices will decrease.

The Local Sweden reported last year about increasing housing costs in Sweden, spurred on in part by a desire for bigger homes further away from urban areas during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fernández called the two years of increasing housing costs “surprising.”

“10-12 percent two years in a row, that’s historical in these uncertain times,” he said, noting that prices were still increasing in figures for March this year.

What sorts of housing will see the largest price decrease?

The FI report also included various scenarios of how the price of different types of housing may fluctuate based on changes in the interest rate.

One scenario assumed a 1 percent increase in interest rates this year and a 0.5 percent increase next year, and predicted that while the price of apartments owned in a cooperative – called bostadsrätter – would fall only slightly, the price of detached houses would fall by 10 percent.

Another calculation that accounted for rising electricity prices and a decline in new housing purchases found that the price of bostadsrätter and detached houses risked falling by an average of 30 percent.

Is there a plan to let borrowers end their mortgage terms early?

“We believe it needs to be simpler and more inexpensive for households to repay their mortgages early,” FI Director General Erik Thedéen is quoted as saying in a press release published by the agency on Wednesday.

To that end, Thedéen said at a press conference that the agency had sent a request to the government to change the calculation model for how banks are compensated when mortgages are terminated early.

“When you terminate a loan agreement and the bank incurs costs, it must be reimbursed,” Thedéen said. “But at present the banks are overcompensated, that is what our calculations show. If the government follows our line and changes the model and follows our line, then the banks must simply adapt.”

When asked about the likelihood of this request being granted, FI recommended reaching out to the Ministry of Justice for comment.

What does this mean for foreigners in Sweden?

If you’re already a mortgage holder, then as Karlsson and Fernández assured, mortgage calculations include a cushion that allow for changes in your financial circumstances.

If homeownership is in your future, housing prices may begin to decrease in the near future, so it’s worth keeping an eye on your local real estate listings.

By Shandana Mufti